Have you ever woken up with a hangover and rushed to catch a flight, unsure if you wanted to make it while still wondering about what happened the night before?
My hangover was making sight itself tough, but I couldn’t help but notice the different people about to get on the same plane as me. In comparison to my night out, there is a greater diversity in passengers getting on this plane. Not only that, but everyone seems to be in a different mood, and at different stages of life. There are some families trying to keep their young ones entertained and quiet at the same time; there are solo travellers staring into the great nothingness, using some part of the plane as their screen to project the inner workings of their imagination onto; then there are a few people quietly reading their books, novels – some have even resorted to reading the airlines magazine – while others are scrolling on their phones.
As I settle into my seat I realise I’m getting a bit overwhelmed by the amount of stimulation coming at me from everywhere. Perfumes, lights, noisy stags, rustling of pages, quiet chatter, loud laughter, and, the thoughts from the night before all mixed into one cauldron of thoughts and emotions that leave me wondering whether I should get up and go to the toilet or do my best to sit still and push through. About 4 hours into the flight, the pilot makes an announcement.
“I regret to inform you that not only will we have to change where we land, we’re not entirely sure when we will be able to land at all - I cannot give you any more information for now, but rest assured, we’ll get there.”
I notice that everyone around me has responded to the news a little differently. The group of men on the stag have started cheering, although from where I’m sitting, it’s fairly clear they all have different feelings on the news. As they sip their lagers, some seem to be taking bigger gulps of the frothy liquid than the rest of the group.
A young lady sitting next to me who seemed to be in a dream for the best part of the flight so far appears to have taken the information in and added it to whatever story she was playing through in her head. She looked a little more serious now but continues to use the news announced from the pilot as a way to change the direction of her story without getting in the way of it unfolding, scene by scene. A mother and father are frantically trying to hush one of their youngsters as the other two sleep. For everyone else, it is a mixture of silence, hushed conversations and outright anger that they just can’t seem to hide.
Out came the phones and people were leaving voice notes to friends, posting on social media and frantically trolling the airline hoping for answers. There seemed to be a strange energy in the plane between those that knew regardless of what happened we’d all be ok, and the people who had already decided the world was coming to an end without having enough information to draw these conclusions from.In a very strange turn of events, it just so happened that we got two more announcements after that. We had already been in the air for what felt like months. It had been tough. We had been given little information and were asked to trust them in the uncertainty of it all.
The next two announcements came with a similar message, but with a better understanding of what was ahead of us, albeit slightly tinged with a tone of uncertainty. Over the next few hours, we were told to stay in our seats unless we absolutely had to move. In those few hours, you learned a lot about how as much as you thought you were different from everyone in the plane in so many ways, you actually had a lot more in common with everyone than you originally thought.
As the hours went by the mood in the plane was constantly shifting from low and stagnant, to a higher vibe tinged with hope and laughter. Conversations started between the most unlikely of pairings. Some of the men from the stag had switched seats and were now chatting with an elderly couple about their travels in life and how they came to meet. “What does it feel like to be in love? How did you know he/she was the one? What do you feel our generation has missed out on that you had?”
This couple had met at a dance and kept in touch by writing letters to one another. They saw each other once every 6 months as their parents thought they were too young to be in love. They said their love grew stronger the more they realised that love wasn’t perfect, and neither were they. It was a journey of challenges where clear communication, understanding what it is to be human, and compassion was key.
“Loveys, you youngsters seem to have so much choice that less of you are giving other people a chance. There always seems to be better, and nobody ever seems to be enough. Our advice is to have fun, keep your eyes open, take chances, lead with an open heart, and remember even though you might not admit it, you probably want just what they want. To love, to be loved and to go on a journey. Don’t create expectations, create agreements of respect with yourself and with others. Open your mind to the fact that you just never know what the future might hold. Life is a great mystery. It can be an enjoyable one when you give up trying to figure it out all of the time.”
Further to the right, there was an elderly woman chatting to an African-American who had recently moved to Dublin. Rosie, 73, was chatting about her love of life and her desire to live it up until the end. Her only regret had been not talking to her sister for 30 years before she died suddenly the month before.
“You can tell yourself it doesn’t bother you until it’s too late, and then you realise it bothered you more than anything else ever has. Your mind goes to places that maybe you needed to evaluate long before then. Alas, I’ll have to live with it now”.
Michael talked about his struggles with finding belonging in Dublin. He got comments and remarks on the colour of his skin every now and then, but that wasn’t what bothered him. What bothered him was that people seemed to assume his experience of being alive was different to theirs. He was supposed to be “Lucky to be in Ireland” as opposed to being able to dream and make the most of his talents. It was subtle things that others didn’t seem to notice, but it made him think that he wasn’t enough; that maybe if he was born in Ireland, got enough points in the Leaving Cert he would be more accepted as someone who could be successful in his own way?
The young lady sitting beside me was up chatting to the young couple about what it is like raising three young kids all at the same time. Earlier in the flight, she had told me she just wanted to travel the world, to always be a free spirit and meet as many people as she possibly could. She came back with a tear in her eye. She had changed her mind. She wanted to travel the world but she was open to the fact that maybe she should be a little more trusting of men. Maybe she had looked in the wrong places for the right men. Maybe she did want kids; maybe she was telling herself a few lies to stay safe and not get hurt; who knows. As she fell asleep with a half-smile, half frown across her face I turned to the man beside me. He was watching everything unfold as eagerly as I was. He had muscles bulging through his t-shirt and tattoos covering every part of skin that I could see. Through his sunglasses, he looked at me with curiosity. He had this weird calmness that made me feel like time had slowed down.
“So, what’s your story?”
“Well, I was hungover up until an hour ago. I was out last night with a few friends from work and from home. At the start of this flight, I really wished I hadn’t gone out at all. Right now, now that my head has cleared up a bit I’m happy I went out - but I’m also happy I’m here. This escapade has made me realise a few things. We started off our “night” at 3 yesterday afternoon. To summarise the night it was a series of conversations with people who felt just as lost sober, as they looked at 5am wandering home this morning. Watching everyone on today's flight and hearing the bits and pieces from the various conversations has made me think. What are we all looking for that we can’t seem to find?"
Taking some time to let what I said land, my seat neighbour looked back at me, removed his glasses and answered in a slow and thought out voice. ‘Well, I guess that answer seems to look different to us all, but from my perspective, when you look at it a little closer it’s the same thing wrapped up in different wrapping paper for each and every one of us. The mistake we seem to make is thinking that anyone outside of ourselves has the key or the answers to what will make us feel whole. From the conversations, I have heard today, my own life experience so far, and from this bizarre flight, this is what I think…take from it what you will.’
1. Every single one of us experiences life differently. We all see the world in a different way, have a different set of beliefs and values that determine what we do and don’t do in life; what we care about and what we don’t care too much for at all. The mistake we make is assuming that for the world to be perfect, or our lives to be worthwhile, we need everyone around us to believe what we believe or want what we want before we can feel worthy to figure it out for ourselves.’
2. Life is an unravelling journey that no sooner seems to be going as planned before it spirals in a direction we never dreamed of. We constantly create an idea, or an expectation, of what we feel we are entitled to without taking into consideration that life is the greatest mystery of all. A part of creating plans and visions for the future is becoming comfortable that better things will come along; with challenges being the gateways to us getting there. We live in a world where people with sight can’t see, and people who acknowledge they can’t see everything see more of what they need to see when they see it.’
3. Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, your gender, the colour of your skin, or what society has told us about how worthy we are or how successful we will be – we are the only people that can define that for ourselves. When we let our success or worthiness be defined by anyone or anything outside of ourselves, we’re already in a battle that never ends. One we’ll all partake in, but only the self-aware can step back from.’
4. From an early age, most of society told us that to survive we must be the same as everyone else to fit in. We must do what they do, believe what they believe, and think what everyone else thinks. Remember those in school that were brave enough to be different? The ones who were bullied and ridiculed for not being the same as everyone else? I have a new respect for them now. Success in life comes from owning what makes you unique, what makes you different and seeing it as a gift and a strength, not a curse. If you think the same as everyone else, you’re denying what you bring to the table that nobody else can.
5. I read a book before called “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” by Bronnie Ware. The top regret?
"I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." A few years ago I was so lost. I never had anyone who I could look up to or who told me there was nothing wrong with me, that I was just different. One night I found myself lying against the wall in an alleyway, crying after a night out. I had broken up with my on-off girlfriend of four years. I was 29, drunk, lonely, and hurting. A homeless man sat down beside me and listened to me talk for hours. I could see in his eyes he was really listening and that he cared. I felt like he could feel my pain. Every now and then he asked me a question that really got me thinking. “If you guys never broke up, where would you be in five years time?” His last question stuck with me. “If you knew you could make a difference in this world, what would you do?” That question, along with that book, brought me here today.’
6. No matter what happens in life you can’t experience joy and love unless you are open to the pain and hurt that comes with being a human being. We wouldn’t appreciate the light and warmth of the sun if we didn’t know how it felt to be in the cold on a dark night. As you have heard from the various conversations around the plane today, and maybe assumptions you have made about me with my tattoos and my fairly strong arms, underneath it all we are all the same. We want to belong, to love, to be loved and more than anything at all - to be so comfortable in our own skin that no matter what ever happens to us, we know we’re going to be ok. No matter how tough it gets, we’re going to make it through.”
7. It took me a few minutes to reflect on everything he said, but I wanted to know more. “What advice would you give if the pilot was to call in again and say ‘we’re going to be hanging in the air for another six hours’? What would you be thinking then? If one of the flight attendants gave you the mic and said ‘Can you please say something to calm everyone down?’, what would you say?”
“Well, I’d start off by acknowledging it’s been a tough few hours, even though it feels like a lot longer than that. I feel I would mention how if we were out and about in the world, and not in this plane, a lot of the conversations had today, would never have happened. A lot of people have been given a different perspective and lens to look at life through. Using that awareness and a newfound respect for people who lead different lives to us, it could be a good time to acknowledge that there is no perfect way to react or to behave when you’ve been made feel like you’re being held captive. Some people will want to scream, others will want to cry; some will want to hide in the toilets and others will try to let it all wash over them, hoping the end comes a little sooner than expected. There is no perfect way of “doing this''. If we could all respect and understand that this will feel different for us all - we might have a better chance of getting through it together. Not perfectly, but more so humanly - in our own unique and different ways. I once felt guilty for being someone who doesn’t like to get up early like everyone else. My body just doesn’t work that way. I get up later than everyone else and love the silence and the calmness that comes with the dark of the night. It’s a time when my imagination runs wild and I get most of my work done.
The day I let go of the guilt of doing what everyone else did was the day I started to get the best out of myself; and I began to understand that regardless of what is thought to be best practice or what you should do, that we all have different ways of being and doing. If nothing else, use this as a practice run to have a better understanding that not only are we all in the same plane right now - but we’re all looking for the same thing. We want to arrive safely knowing that we have the rest of our lives ahead of us once we get off this plane. What might look different, is how we achieve that as individuals. Be open to learning from others, be comfortable in being different and doing your thing. It won’t be easy, but if you can give it a go you’ll all learn something that might stand with you for the rest of your life. We’re all striving for the same things, but we all seem to think that there is only one way there. There are many ways and the path that is unique and different always offers more value than the one that everyone knows.”...I tried to find a way that wasn’t your modern-day clickbait way of writing a “Five ways to become enlightened in 30mins” article.
There are many messages littered throughout this article, but above anything else, I hope you took away how unique we are. Nobody is perfect and we’re all human. I don’t have the answers to how we can become more certain with the unknown or how you, as an individual, can get through this. I can’t meet you where you are at right now and know the next best thing to say or the most suitable question to ask - but I do hope this article gave you some questions that might provide some perspective and give you some answers for yourself.
Above anything else, I do feel it gives us more space to reflect on the lives we want to lead and how as much as we may appear different on the outside, have different beliefs about what is the right way, the wrong way etc, taking the time to figure out what is right for you and enjoying that journey, will make these darks days a little brighter.
Here are some questions that might help over the next few weeks, and into 2021.
1.If you could accept yourself as you are, how would life be different?
2. What has 2020 taught you about yourself that you didn’t know before? How can you leverage this to make the next 12 months more you?
3. If you were to make one simple, subtle change that would have the greatest impact for you going forward, what would that change look like?
4. What is your greatest strength?
5. If you could design the world in a way that reflects your dreams, your desires, what you really care about, and what matters to you what kind of world would you create?
6. What comes naturally to you that other people have to work for?Last but not least.
7. If you had all that you ever wanted, what would you value the most? I put these questions in to provoke some thought for you.
To get you thinking. As the world returns to our new reality, who are you going to show up as? We’ve been through one of the toughest times of our lives as a collective, and to a large part, we’re still in the thick of the fog. We can’t really see the full impact of this on us all, but we can think of a time when the fog is gone. What life would we create from there for ourselves?If C-19 has taught us anything; We’re all in the same boat; We want similar things. Everyone’s picture looks different. Respect that. Acknowledge that. Create your own. With love. With pride. With fun.
“Imagination should not be used to escape from reality, but to create it”Colin Wilson
“If you’re looking to create meaningful and sustainable change in 2021 in a way that is aligned with your true nature, feel free to drop Thomas an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in for a conversation. Bring yourself, bring your questions - and who knows what the future holds? Our future can happen, or we can create it. One conversation at a time.”
See you next time,